January 3, 2014

Isles, Okposo Each Make Statements in OT Win Over Hawks

After another impressive come from behind win on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins, the Islanders were coming back home to face the other team from the Stanley Cup Finals, the Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately for the Isles, they were on an 0-4-4 run at home, so it's been anything but an advantage.

What was an advantage however, was that when the two teams have gotten together, the Isles always play the Hawks tightly. And coming off those two huge comeback victories over some solid hockey clubs, you had to give the Isles the benefit of the doubt.

From the get go the Isles were playing a solid 200 foot game. Evgeni Nabokov had a really solid showing in net and made some fantastic stops. He was equaled, and in many cases bettered by Corey Crawford, who was returning from an injury that kept him out for almost a month.

The Isles built up a 2-0 lead but in reality it would have been more if not for Crawford. To be honest, I was impressed with him and more so than I usually am. But Crawford was the reason why the Hawks were in the game and why they ended up with a point. This is a testament to how well the Isles played.

Casey Cizikas seems to have gotten back to the level we know he can play at as he's been much more effective of late. He had a beautiful defensive play to strip a puck loose and go in on a breakaway to give the Isles a 1-0 lead late in the first, which seemed to be the momentum the Isles needed in the second period.

Although there weren't a ton of shots in the first half of the game, there were some excellent chances for both sides, with the Isles seemingly getting the better of play. Thomas Vanek was able to give the Isles a 2-0 lead and keep up his hot stretch and now the question was just a matter of if the Isles could keep doing the right things and maintain a lead.

Of course, under any normal situation it would be very difficult to hold a two goal lead over a Stanley Cup contender and Thursday night was no different. A late second period goal by Brent Seabrook and an early third period tally by Ben Smith brought the Hawks right back into the game.

It was at this point where Crawford began to really stand on his head, making save after save as the Isles pressed and really did all they could to break the tie as the period worse on. A point blank save on Kyle Okposo late in the frame really stands out as perhaps the save of the game, preserving the tie and allowing the Hawks to earn at least one point.

In some cases, story lines write themselves and naturally one came to the forefront immediately in the extra frame. After being denied in the third, Okposo had a chance on a rebound off of a John Tavares shot, and boy did he ever fire it home.

Okposo's elation at scoring the OT winner was a picture perfect moment after getting snubbed by Team USA in their construction of next month's roster for the Olympics. The crowd erupted into chants of 'USA' to remind the team what they will be missing, and flattering Okposo to the point where he had no choice but to acknowledge it during his post game interview.

More importantly it gave the Isles their third straight win, and these six points are a great start to getting back into the thick of things at the back end of the playoff picture. However there is still a lot of work to be done. Winning their first home game in OT in almost two years is certainly something that can give the team some jump too, especially when you take into consideration the opponent.

In the interest of taking baby steps, the next game is huge for the Isles. They'll play the Carolina Hurricanes, who they have had all sorts of trouble with in recent years. Given that they are now a division opponent, it would really give the Isles some buzz if they can finally figure out a way to defeat the Canes.

- Chris

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